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239 comments

what the shit... (0, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20005951)

then we got NASA people sabotaging computer parts, and astronaughts getting piss drunk before they go to space.. Whats next for space news? a new discovery? or more paris hilton type shit?

New planet definition.... (3, Funny)

EmbeddedJanitor (597831) | more than 6 years ago | (#20005973)

an asteroid with botox treatment.

Re:New planet definition.... (1)

AoT (107216) | more than 6 years ago | (#20006135)

Whatever.

I blame the Luddites.

It was sabotage, look for the wooden shoe.

Sabot is French, Luddites were English (2, Informative)

EmbeddedJanitor (597831) | more than 6 years ago | (#20006203)

As Wikipedia notes, the entymology that sabotage comes from Luddites throwing Frech shoes into English looms seems highly suspect.

The entymology I am more familiar with, and would seem more believable, is rooted in the Fench revolution. The French peasants trampled the landlords' crops by stamping on them with their sabots. Much more believable!

Re:Sabot is French, Luddites were English (1)

aichpvee (631243) | more than 6 years ago | (#20006407)

The word you are looking for is etymology [wikipedia.org], and I don't think that it means what you think it means.

Etymology is the study of the history of words - when they entered a language, from what source, and how their form and meaning have changed over time.

Re:what the shit... (2, Funny)

Kenshin (43036) | more than 6 years ago | (#20006145)

Whats next for space news? a new discovery? or more paris hilton type shit?

Ah, just wait till the Russians show off their Lindsay Lohan type shit...

Not surprised... (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20005955)

This is what you would expect when the private sector tries its hand at space travel -- deaths due to carelessness. That's why space colonization is properly a government function.

Re:Not surprised... (4, Insightful)

jollyreaper (513215) | more than 6 years ago | (#20006017)

This is what you would expect when the private sector tries its hand at space travel -- deaths due to carelessness. That's why space colonization is properly a government function.
Right, cuz we've never lost a government astronaut do to carelessness and general fuck-ups. Not sure if you're a troll or some sort of weird dark libertarian.

All I have to say on the matter is that rocket science is dangerous business, the same goes for any kind of challenging engineering. Sometimes people die because other people fuck up, sometimes people die in spite of every sane precaution that could possibly be taken. I just hope this is the latter and not the former. I just hope it isn't symptomatic of a corporate mentality takeover after the buyout.

How dense are you? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20006067)

That was sarcasm! You can't think of the shuttle program without thinking of columbia. Obviously he was referring to that!

Crap!

Re:How dense are you? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20006131)

It doesn't look like sarcasm to me. You'd have to try really hard to say what he wrote with a sarcastic tone. If it was sarcastic maybe he should have tried harder.

Re:Not surprised... (2, Insightful)

TooMuchToDo (882796) | more than 6 years ago | (#20006223)

If anything, I would say this is a sign of progress (although, the loss of life is terrible). When you're at the edge of the frontier and pushing forward, lives will be lost. For historical significance, please reference the last 6000 years of civilization.

Re:Not surprised... (5, Insightful)

jollyreaper (513215) | more than 6 years ago | (#20006281)

If anything, I would say this is a sign of progress (although, the loss of life is terrible). When you're at the edge of the frontier and pushing forward, lives will be lost. For historical significance, please reference the last 6000 years of civilization.
The pilots in the Air Force Thunderbirds are living on the edge and pushing the boundaries but none of them would consider lives lost a measure of progress, they would see it as a sign that the training is deficient. The danger is always there and sometimes shit happens but I wouldn't call it progress. Did Challenger show we were making process in space exploration or did it show that when in doubt, management should Listen to the Fucking Engineers(tm).

Re:Not surprised... (2, Insightful)

TooMuchToDo (882796) | more than 6 years ago | (#20006311)

Exploring space is dangerous. Getting there uses lots dangerous fuels, and once there, it's not that hospitable of a place for the human body. We live in fantastic times. People in their 20s and 30s will live longer then any earlier humans. There is much less danger on a daily basis then in any other time in human history. Space is dangerous. Getting there is dangerous. You can mitigate the risk as much as possible. At the end of the day, there's still a hell of a lot of risk.

Re:Not surprised... (4, Insightful)

Short Circuit (52384) | more than 6 years ago | (#20006431)

There's a big difference between accepting death as a natural result of an activity, and measuring the progress of that activity in terms of death. When one goes to war, one expects to lose soldiers. That doesn't mean that whoever lost the most soldiers has necessarily won.

Hindsight is 20/20. From this initial report, it sounds like this particular incident was a result of known factors, and thus avoidable. The Challenger and Columbia incidents were the result of factors which, while known, were under-appreciated. The Challenger factors were managerial, while the Columbia factors were the result of engineering.

There's also the matter of economics. It's simply not economically possible to guard against every threat. If it were, then someone on this planet would be nigh-immortal.

Re:Not surprised... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20006045)

Yes, because there's never been any deaths due to carelessness at NASA.

First and foremost (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20005965)

Condolences to their families and loved ones...

Re:First and foremost (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20006199)

Condolences to their families and loved ones...


Exactly. We feel really sincerely sorry. Now, where is the YouTube link? We want to see blood, gore and guts, just like in dozens of Iraq videos. We also feel sorry for those, don't we? Couple hundred thousand civilian victims so far, thanks to USA. And still counting.

Re:First and foremost (1)

Interl0per (1045948) | more than 6 years ago | (#20006321)

Words fail, I can only echo my heartfelt sympathy for all who have suffered loss in this tragedy.

Re:First and foremost (1)

Malekin (1079147) | more than 6 years ago | (#20006327)

Respectfully, I think first and foremost important is figuring out what happened and ensuring that nobody else is in immediate danger. It is better that mourning is delayed than compounded by more deaths. Maybe it's sympathetic, but I think it's glib to say "first and foremost" are our condolences.

Re:First and foremost (0, Offtopic)

Riverman5 (1018024) | more than 6 years ago | (#20006547)

When I saw the headline, I thought "OH NO! Not John Carmack! What will I do without my armadillo updates!"

Then I found out it was just Scaled. Whew.

Oh, damn! (4, Insightful)

JimDaGeek (983925) | more than 6 years ago | (#20005987)

My prayers are with the lost and their loved ones. What a shame. There are two gone, but 4 are still with us, though in really bad shape. So... send your prayers, positive vibes, your "mojo", or your voodoo. It doesn't matter now. These people are working hard to help push our knowledge as humans further. So we should stand by them and do what little we can.

Re:Oh, damn! (1)

pixel.jonah (182967) | more than 6 years ago | (#20006409)

May the two that died rest in peace and a speedy and complete recovery for the five injured.

To all of them and the rest of the Scaled crew: Thank you for continually innovating and pushing the envelope of our human capabilities.

Re:Oh, damn! (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20006559)

whenever I hear of someone dying I try to look at the bright side and think:
 
"well, maybe they deserved it"

Re:Oh, damn! (1)

tobias.sargeant (741709) | more than 6 years ago | (#20006681)

I don't want to belittle the suffering of the individuals or their families in any way... but... can't... resist...

> So... send your prayers, positive vibes, your "mojo", or your voodoo. It doesn't matter now.

It does matter... Don't send your voodoo. We all know voodoo creates zombies, and if there's one thing that Scaled Composites doesn't need at this time, it's zombies.

sorry (-1, Offtopic)

Spikeles (972972) | more than 6 years ago | (#20005989)

if it sounds heartless... first thing that came into my head after reading this article..

"Where's the kaboom?.. There was supposed to be an earth shattering kaboom"

Re:sorry (4, Insightful)

jollyreaper (513215) | more than 6 years ago | (#20006023)

if it sounds heartless... first thing that came into my head after reading this article..

"Where's the kaboom?.. There was supposed to be an earth shattering kaboom"
It was earth-shattering for their families, earth-shattering for the injured. For the dead, they're not feeling anything.

Man, I can usually appreciate sympathetic dark humor but that joke just comes across as so dickish and it isn't even funny in an inappropriate "NASA=need another seven astronauts" kind of way.

Re:sorry (4, Insightful)

Spikeles (972972) | more than 6 years ago | (#20006081)

Different people take humour in different ways. I like the NASA one, hadn't heard that before. Seriously though, you are saying earth shattering for injured and families.. Oh no. 6 or 7 people hurt/killed. How many are murdered each day in America? How many murdered killed, die of famine each day, killed in Iraq from bombs, blown up by landmines, crushed to death? Really, i'm sick of the double standards we humans have. Certainly condolences to the families, but I'll be damned if I'm going to make these deaths any more or less special than any other.

Re:sorry (3, Insightful)

jollyreaper (513215) | more than 6 years ago | (#20006247)

Different people take humour in different ways. I like the NASA one, hadn't heard that before. Seriously though, you are saying earth shattering for injured and families.. Oh no. 6 or 7 people hurt/killed. How many are murdered each day in America? How many murdered killed, die of famine each day, killed in Iraq from bombs, blown up by landmines, crushed to death? Really, i'm sick of the double standards we humans have. Certainly condolences to the families, but I'll be damned if I'm going to make these deaths any more or less special than any other.
Look, I don't know these guys from Adam. But of all the people who died yesterday, these are the ones I'm reading about right now, here on Slashdot. They died working on something that I think is cool and I'm sorry they lost their lives. Just today I'm talking with a guy who came off jury duty. The case involved the death of a young girl involved in a horrific rollover accident and the parents were suing the auto-maker for negligent design. I didn't know of her when she died but just hearing of the parents' grief in that court-room second-hand was enough to make me feel sympathy. A single death is a tragedy, a million a statistic. But it's still human to feel for the people when you hear about the deaths in detail, just as it's human to grow numb when all you hear are the numbers.

Re:sorry (2, Insightful)

gad_zuki! (70830) | more than 6 years ago | (#20006275)

How many are murdered each day in America? How many murdered killed, die of famine each day

This is a non-convincing argument. Pro-war people say the same thing "Oh how many people get murdered each year?" Rapists say "at least I didnt kill anyone." Murders say "at least I'm not a pedophile." This is moral relativism and a slippery slope. If you cant defend private enterprise launching millionares into space as something to die for then that should tell you about how weak your position is.

Well, first of all this rocket business is just that: a business. Its someones fucking job and they got killed at the workplace. You CAN prevent that. You CANT prevent sensless street murder. You CANT stop famine and overpopulation. People should expect a safe work environment. At the end of the day these people died so Burt can launch millionaires into near orbit for 250k a pop. Not exactly a noble calling.

Now, I fully expect the government to come in and regulate these guys. At least put in some real NASA-level safety precautions. NASA isnt perfect but their safety record and procedures are pretty good. I think this is the beginning of the end for the "wild west" approach to space exploration. Now the responsible adults need to step in and protect the worker and protect the customers. We've seen a milliom times in america. From little children working at the looms losing fingers to men losing their hands in meat packing. Some new industry comes up and safety is the last concern. No more, thanks.

My condolences to the families.

Re:sorry (1)

Spikeles (972972) | more than 6 years ago | (#20006341)

I don't understand what your point is with the first two paragraphs but i agree wholeheartedly with your third.

Re:sorry (3, Insightful)

Mistlefoot (636417) | more than 6 years ago | (#20006423)

And people die each week so you have the convenience of buying a pepsi at 3:00am.

The grandparents point is simply that a death is a death, although when their is something unique or spectacular about it we make it a bigger deal than if it's simply a "routine" death. Now I don't mean routine to the family, but routine in a page 26 kind of way, as opposed to something that makes the front few pages.

And I would expect that sending someone to orbit is a very noble calling to many. How many non-goverment employees have ever sent someone to orbit? I'm guessing not very many.

Pretty quick of you to assume that safety wasn't a concern. It was actually a cold test run when it happened. There were bunkers onsite to ensure safety. That's just the from the story we know now. When it's been determined that safety wasn't a high priority then I'll be on your side but for now you are just assuming....

Re:sorry (2, Interesting)

Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) | more than 6 years ago | (#20006465)

This is a non-convincing argument. Pro-war people say the same thing "Oh how many people get murdered each year?" Rapists say "at least I didnt kill anyone." Murders say "at least I'm not a pedophile." This is moral relativism and a slippery slope.
Oh grow up. You are comparing someone making a morbid joke with murders and rapists.
Get off your high horse. Moral relativism, my ass.

And I'm someone who's first action on reading the headlines (before slashdot even noticed them) was to call a friend who has been closely involved with the x-prize and scaled composites to make sure she wasn't one of the ones hurt.

Re:sorry (1)

Short Circuit (52384) | more than 6 years ago | (#20006467)

Its someones fucking job and they got killed at the workplace. You CAN prevent that.
You can't prevent an individual incident unless you counter the factors that will cause that incident.

You can't prevent a class of incidents from occurring. You can make them rare, compared to previous statistics, but you can't prevent them outright. And at some point, you have to realize that there is a balance between risk and reward, and that human nature is to always treat the current level of risk as unacceptable.

I wish more people would realize that.

Re:sorry (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20006589)

> At the end of the day these people died so Burt can launch millionaires into near orbit for 250k a pop. Not exactly a noble calling.

Chuck you, Farley.

At the end of the day, these people died so Burt could launch millionaires (instead of billionaires) into near orbit for $250K a pop (instead of $30M a pop).

Given the situation in Unistat, and the likelihood of "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" (TANSTAAFL is something Heinlein derived as a likely result of living in a hostile environment) coming true after a critical mass of humans is achieved outside of earth orbit, I'm willing to bet that the people working at Scaled Composites were on their way towards doing more for human freedom than NASA did in the past 40 years.

Until NOC bought them out, of course, ending all hope of cheap civilian access to space.

> Now, I fully expect the government to come in and regulate these guys. At least put in some real NASA-level safety precautions.

Chuck you again, and the horse you rode in on, Farley.

Columbus and those who followed him didn't cross the Atlantic because they thought it was safe. They did so because he thought he could make a fuckload of money by doing so.

NASA safety precautions are appropriate for people who will sue you if your spaceship blows up.

The meek (and that's you, Farley) can have the earth. The rest of us only want the right to sign a waiver that we may take our chances with the stars.

Re:sorry (3, Interesting)

Genda (560240) | more than 6 years ago | (#20006295)

Context is everything...

Why does the needless death of a beautiful baby in a war torn nation touch us or tug harder at our heart strings than the equally tragic death of an old man in a traffic accident? Part of it is the loss of possibility, a life unfulfilled. Part of it is the sadness of losing something innocent to something so depraved and heartless as a snipers rifle or terrorists bomb.

In the same way, we are especially touched by the loss of heroes. Heroes of the mind who force back the darkness, heroes of the will who challenge what's possible for people, and heroes of the heart who throw themselves fiercely at life's dare. Along the way we lose some of these heroes and a little piece of us dies with them, and that's why we mourn, that's why their passing is something special.

It doesn't diminish the humanity or worth of others, it doesn't diminish the depth or breadth of the trajedy of losing others. It is however a special loss, and these men and women deserve our acknowlegement, our respect, and our tears at their passing. It will always be hardest when we lose that which is the best of ourselves.

Who we make heroes... and how we mourn there passing more than anything else says something about who we are.

Re:sorry (1)

Spikeles (972972) | more than 6 years ago | (#20006329)

It is however a special loss, and these men and women deserve our acknowlegement, our respect, and our tears at their passing.
So you are saying that these deaths are more important than say.. when *my* father died? What makes them more or less "special"? Or this one of those nasty "context" things?

Good. (1)

twitter (104583) | more than 6 years ago | (#20006353)

Certainly condolences to the families, but I'll be damned if I'm going to make these deaths any more or less special than any other.

That sounds heartless and cruel, but it would be the best thing for the company and everyone else who works there. This is an industrial accident. It's terrible and deserves an investigation like any other. People are not supposed to die at work and all safeguards should be in place. Anything else is taking chances with other people's lives for money, the moral equivalent of murder. At the same time, society should not blow it out of proportion. Immoral people take advantage of that kind of emotional response to pass laws to their advantage. It already takes billions of dollars to break into the space business, an accident like this can be used to make even that impossible. This accident strikes most of us because these people are the lucky few who are living a science fiction fantasy. Keeping a cool head is the best way to make sure there's more of this work to go around.

Awww, who am I kidding? Scaled Composites is bought. The parent company is going to fire them all anyway.

Re:Good. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20006661)

> People are not supposed to die at work and all safeguards should be in place. Anything else is taking chances with other people's lives for money, the moral equivalent of murder.

Or warfare. Someone's gotta have the brains and the balls to get us off this rock. (I've got the balls to gladly eat the blast wave on behalf of those with the brains... except that I didn't have the brains to get the job :)

> Awww, who am I kidding? Scaled Composites is bought. The parent company is going to fire them all anyway.

To pick one nit with your post: the employees won't be fired. They'll be kept on, but under strict NDAs and non-compete clauses, to ensure that their knowledge never sees the civilian world in our lifetimes. If there's one thing post-Apollo NASA hates these days, it's competition.

Otherwise, you're sadly right. I really thought Scaled was gonna make civilian access to space a reality. Great for the shareholders, and I don't begrudge them the money they've rightfully earned.

Doesn't make it any better for the rest of us, stuck on this shithole rock, realizing after the NOC takeover that we've gotta wait another 20 years for the next guy to try the experiment.

Re:sorry (1)

Lawn Jocke (1064716) | more than 6 years ago | (#20006501)

Double standards, yes, but you have to understand that they are an inherent part of human existence. You make a poignant statement, but I don't see how anyone can claim complete objectivity. Yes, your are right about the fact that these contradictions do exist, I cannot believe your contempt towards the simple acts of honoring the dead. Everybody has the right to be honored in death, every survivor has the right to comfort. The murdered, starved, bombed, and everyone else who died deserve this. If your view of fairness is that every death is the same, so be it. But to feel contempt toward those who feel that those dead should be honored is wrong.

Maybe your logic and observations are true, but your contempt for those who would only wish to grieve is inexcusable. So what if they wish to honor those who died more than the next person? So what if they even were to erect statues of them that they didn't deserve? I see no crime in that. And even if the honor we give to their memory is unequal to that we give to others, that does not make it wrong to grieve. Fair, maybe not. But I too give my condolences to all those involved, and unashamedly at that.

Re:sorry (1)

MobileTatsu-NJG (946591) | more than 6 years ago | (#20006539)

"Really, i'm sick of the double standards we humans have. "

So... if your father died, would you just shrug and say "Welp, just another death today?"

I already know what the answer to that is. It's related to the reason why these deaths are important. When you feel personally involved (i.e. people working to further advance our journies into space), you care more. It's not a matter of double-standards. When somebody dies, invariably your thoughts drift towards how that will affect you. It's just the way the mind works.

You could get all Vulcan about it and try to brush it off with rationale like you just used, but sooner or later, somebody will die, and your reaction will violate your rationale. Humans aren't as illogical as you're making them out to be. It's not worth getting 'sick' over.

Re:sorry (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20006097)

Fuck you asshole. I thought it was funny, and *somebody* has to provide a counterpoint to the insipid "our hearts go out to the families" bullshit.

You be sure and let us know when it's time to use humor.

Re:sorry (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20006233)

Sure it's tragic and all, but honestly.. stuff exploding on the ground is like a rite of passage for the space race.

First thing into my head on seeing the headline was "Is Burt okay??".
Marvin's Kaboom quote was the second though, I'll admit.

Re:sorry (5, Funny)

Bonobo_Unknown (925651) | more than 6 years ago | (#20006251)

"The Los Angeles Times reports that the explosion was 'ignited by a tank of nitrous oxide.'" Just goes to show that nitrous oxide is no laughing matter.

Re:sorry (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20006307)

A rabbit stole my Illudium Q-36 Explosive Space Modulator, you insensitive clod!

Strange for a hybrid motor (4, Informative)

sokoban (142301) | more than 6 years ago | (#20005991)

The article's a little light on details, but explosive failure is pretty rare for hybrid rocket motors such as this, isn't it?

Usually mis-ignition will just cause rapid release of the N2O oxidizer, and designs are such that a clogged nozzle which would actually cause an explosion generally causes a safety valve to open and vent the excess pressure.

Yeah, everything I've seen on hybrid motors says they are non-explosive with a near zero TNT rating.

Re:Strange for a hybrid motor (4, Informative)

evanbd (210358) | more than 6 years ago | (#20006047)

They weren't firing the motor; apparently this was some sort of handling accident. Which also explains why people were close enough to be hurt. Why the fireball, I don't know. Also, nothing actually *detonated* here -- just a big fireball and modest overpressure. (At least, that's what informed commentary on the pictures I've seen says.)

It's also worth noting that given sufficient provocation, it is entirely possible for N2O to detonate by itself -- it's an energetic compound. It's just fairly non-reactive under most conditions, and even if it does start decomposing in a self-sustaining fashion it doesn't normally detonate. But it can, and if you have enough of it you don't even need a detonation to kill people.

Re:Strange for a hybrid motor (1)

ozmanjusri (601766) | more than 6 years ago | (#20006205)

It's just fairly non-reactive under most conditions, and even if it does start decomposing in a self-sustaining fashion it doesn't normally detonate.

Yep, It's an oxidiser and needs a fuel to ignite, but when there's fuel there, it'll be a very energetic fire. I'm guessing there was some fuel vapour release, probably from the semi trailer in the photo here. http://africa.reuters.com/world/news/usnN26257938. html [reuters.com]

Re:Strange for a hybrid motor (4, Informative)

evanbd (210358) | more than 6 years ago | (#20006289)

No, it most certainly does *not* need a fuel. It is an energetic chemical. In other words, 2N2O -> 2N2 + O2 + energy. Not TNT levels of energy, but not small amounts either. I don't have the numbers off hand, but the decomposition temperature is over 1000 Celsius. That reaction *can* happen in a detonation. However, the chemical is quite stable and relatively inert at normal temps (thermal decomposition starts a bit over 500C, iirc) -- at room temp it's far less reactive than oxygen. This accident may or may not have been that -- my understanding is it looks more like a pressure vessel burst and a fire from fuel + oxidizer, but we don't have enough details to know that. The trailer and tank you see overturned in that photo hold nitrous normally (I don't know what was full, or where the nitrous was at the time).

I've worked on that airport and seen these guys out testing. My condolences to the families.

Re:Strange for a hybrid motor (4, Informative)

sokoban (142301) | more than 6 years ago | (#20006649)

2N2O -> 2N2 + O2 + energy.
104.20 kJ/mol of N2O at 298K to be exact.

The activation energy is high, but it can be lowered by use of a catalyst.

Re:Strange for a hybrid motor (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20006117)

As I read this, yours is the FORTH comment. Bookmark this now, because I guarantee you will never find a comment with half as much insight, thoughtfulness, understanding, and education on Digg. Ever.

Whats with Explosions this week? (0, Offtopic)

WarlockD (623872) | more than 6 years ago | (#20006011)

Dallas explosion injures 3, snarls traffic [dallasnews.com]
(Sorry about the link, Dallas News is just WAY to heavy in adds)

Saw that one when working. Gezz, you could see those Acetylene canisters fly. People stopped, ran from their cars just amazing. All started with a faulting line filling the smaller tanks too.

Re:Whats with Explosions this week? (0, Troll)

doombringerltx (1109389) | more than 6 years ago | (#20006167)

Snarls traffic is right. Hearts go out to the families, blah blah blah, but 635 was an abortion on the way home that day. When people start having industrial disasters, then need to think ahead of how they will effect *me*

A couple more details (5, Informative)

evanbd (210358) | more than 6 years ago | (#20006013)

I've been chasing news articles for a little while now.

Details are very scarce, but apparently this was a cold-flow test -- they weren't intending to light the motor, just flow nitrous through it. Tank ruptured, and a big fireball. Evidence visible from pictures etc suggests nothing detonated. Apparently people a couple miles away at the airport proper didn't hear an explosion -- they just saw clouds of dust and smoke, not abnormal for a motor test. I haven't seen anything about causes etc.

My condolences to the families.

Re:A couple more details (4, Interesting)

Thagg (9904) | more than 6 years ago | (#20006065)

My condolences as well. I know that Rutan has done everything he could think of in the design to prevent any kind of explosion, and the purposely doesn't light the rocket until they're 10 miles away from almost everybody, just in case something unexpected does happen.

Among the safety innovations of this rocket is that a single fiber optic cable is wound around and around the tank, so that if it ruptures anyplace it will cut the cable, and the rocket will be shut down immediately.

That said, in a cold-flow test, there shouldn't be anything burning.

I am sure that Burt and Richard Branson are terribly distressed by this. My deepest sympathies go out to the families of the killed and injured.

Thad Beier

Re:A couple more details (2, Interesting)

PhotoGuy (189467) | more than 6 years ago | (#20006263)

Details are very scarce, but apparently this was a cold-flow test -- they weren't intending to light the motor, just flow nitrous through it. Tank ruptured, and a big fireball. Evidence visible from pictures etc suggests nothing detonated.

I did well in high school physics, but there is one thing I think I read/learned awhile back, and wonder if someone can confirm it, and its relevance to this event (if the parent poster quoted above is correct).

The thing is this: that things can explode simply through rapid expansion, which generates heat and a shock wave and all the other nasties one would associate with a detonation, but without there being something detonating.

I seem to recall that nitroglycerine doesn't ignite when it's jostled, but it just so rapidly expands to a ridiculous amount of its original volume, that it wreaks havok. Just like the ruptured tank in this case released expanding material so quickly that it caused a lot of damange (and sadly, deaths and injuries).

Sorry if this is an ignorant question, but some people may want to know the distinction in this case, if the parent post is indeed correct.

Re:A couple more details (4, Informative)

evanbd (210358) | more than 6 years ago | (#20006333)

In non-technical usage, explosion can refer to a detonation or a deflagration. The distinguishing feature is a detonation has a supersonic reaction front, a deflagration is subsonic.

A pressure vessel rupture is an explosion for most purposes in terms of the results; ditto a deflagration. This appears to have been a deflagration -- damage is too light for a mass detonation on that scale.

Damage from explosions can come both from the overpressure, heat, flame, etc caused by the combustion, and also from the shock wave of a detonation. The shock wave will shatter hardened structures, the overpressure "just" moves things around. Also, with a detonation, the pressure rise time is *much* faster, and the overpressure can be *much* higher, so a comparable mass of substance will do much more damage if it detonates rather than deflagrates.

Nitroglycerin doesn't "ignite" in that there isn't a "flame", but the reaction that occurs is a combustion reaction -- the complex molecule ends up as a mix of N2, H2O, CO2, CO, etc. That reaction propagates at supersonic speeds. Interestingly, it will burn quietly if lit -- there's no pressure wave, just thermally-induced decomposition, and it won't transition on its own.

Re:A couple more details (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20006383)

"I seem to recall that nitroglycerine doesn't ignite when it's jostled, but it just so rapidly expands to a ridiculous amount of its original volume, that it wreaks havok. Just like the ruptured tank in this case released expanding material so quickly that it caused a lot of damange (and sadly, deaths and injuries)."

Like many low order explosives, it rapidly decomposes generating large amounts of expanding gases and heat. For all intents and purposes an explosion, the chemical means is rather irrelevant if you are standing next to it at the time.

In this case they likely had a massive oxidiser leak, this is just as dangerous as a large fuel leak, if not more so as the level of energy required initiate combustion is much lower than a large fuel leak. If you had a large oxygen leak in a normal lounge room, you'd have a serious fire, as the furniture in the room would be plenty of fuel, and the heat from a random plug pack / TV, etc would be all that was required for ignition.

But again, from the point of view of someone within range, the reason for the explosion is largely pointless.

Re:A couple more details (1)

Short Circuit (52384) | more than 6 years ago | (#20006505)

A chem class would be more illustrative. Your nitroglycerin does undergo a chemical reaction. Specifically, it decomposes, forming gases. Barring an opposing force, a gas will always expand. Nitroglycerin gets its oomph from how quickly it decomposes into gaseous chemicals. (I'm too lazy to look up the actual decomposition.)

NASA Cutbacks Due To Bush's Push To Mars (-1, Troll)

NeverVotedBush (1041088) | more than 6 years ago | (#20006015)

Lots of articles on this. Seems that the cut budgets ebing realigned for Mars manned flight is causing big cutbacks in other areas. Not like this led to astronauts in diapers, drinking before launch, or sabotage, but it does just hurt the whole NASA organization and probably does make the sensational crap more possible.

Those people are under a lot of stress and now, with more public and government attention, they will be even more so. The attention won't make NASA safer either. With more scrutiny frequently come more screw-ups. I don't envy the people at NASA one bit. I do feel sorry for them though.

Too bad we don't have an administration with honest priorities.

Re:NASA Cutbacks Due To Bush's Push To Mars (1)

jollyreaper (513215) | more than 6 years ago | (#20006051)

Lots of articles on this. Seems that the cut budgets ebing realigned for Mars manned flight is causing big cutbacks in other areas. Not like this led to astronauts in diapers, drinking before launch, or sabotage, but it does just hurt the whole NASA organization and probably does make the sensational crap more possible.
Look, I like bashing Bush and the idiot zampolits running NASA as much as the next geek but Scaled Composites isn't a government contractor.

Re:NASA Cutbacks Due To Bush's Push To Mars (1)

wildsurf (535389) | more than 6 years ago | (#20006123)

...Scaled Composites isn't a government contractor.

Well, no, but it was just acquired by one [slashdot.org].

Re:NASA Cutbacks Due To Bush's Push To Mars (1)

jollyreaper (513215) | more than 6 years ago | (#20006261)

Well, no, but it was just acquired by one [slashdot.org].
This is true but I don't know if that means the parent company is farming out work to them yet. As far as I am aware, their meal ticket is still Virgin Galactic.

Re:NASA Cutbacks Due To Bush's Push To Mars (1)

terrymr (316118) | more than 6 years ago | (#20006053)

Seriously - long waits on the launch pad led to astronauts in diapers.

Re:NASA Cutbacks Due To Bush's Push To Mars (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20006165)

I thought enraged jealousy led to astronauts in diapers.

This has NOTHING to do with NASA (2, Interesting)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 6 years ago | (#20006063)

NASA has NOTHING to do with this project. This is most likely scaled composite's facility (though details are missing). In fact, it is possible that 1 of the 2 was burt rutan. If he dies, then Scaled will fold up in the same fashion that cray research did. Rutan IS Scaled.

My condolences to the families.

Re:This has NOTHING to do with NASA (1)

evanbd (210358) | more than 6 years ago | (#20006157)

It was Scaled's facility; that much is obvious looking at the pictures (until recently I worked at the airport).

Burt wasn't at the site at the time.

Re:NASA Cutbacks Due To Bush's Push To Mars (1)

deprecated (86120) | more than 6 years ago | (#20006099)

You know this wasn't at NASA, right? I blame Bush for everything too, but this one might actually not be his fault.

Re:NASA Cutbacks Due To Bush's Push To Mars (1)

Riverman5 (1018024) | more than 6 years ago | (#20006599)

Dude, you post way to much on the boards. I post maybe once a week, but you are always there. You're a god damn karma whore. Read the fuckin' article next time.

Not a launch (1)

flawedconceptions (1000049) | more than 6 years ago | (#20006031)

From the image, it looks like a truckbed fell over during the course of unloading something (presumably a tank of nox). A forklift is still upright, so the explosion couldn't have been huge, deathly though it was. Hopefully this is just a relatively minor accident at a relatively popular company.

shame (3, Insightful)

gadzook33 (740455) | more than 6 years ago | (#20006033)

Besides the obvious tragedy of human loss, I hope this doesn't also sway them from continuing. With NASA spending money on colonizing the moon, guys like this may be our only chance for the future of interesting and pioneering science.

Obvious Cause (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20006049)

"The Los Angeles Times reports that the explosion was 'ignited by a tank of nitrous oxide.' This is the home of SpaceShip One and Virgin Galactic spacecraft development."

James Bond was seen running from the facility.

Complacentcy (3, Insightful)

Sorn (1101727) | more than 6 years ago | (#20006087)

I work with munitions both guided and unguided with the AF, General Purpose Bombs and Guided Missiles, More then likely just complacentcy was the factor, hardly ever is there an accident with explosives that takes place that doesn't involve that factor. This day and age explosives are not as fragile as Nitro once was, it takes a hell of alot to set them off. Even with the solid rocket motors of the missiles the tech data states that a spark of static electricity could set them off however after working with them long enough you learn to respect the potential there but also know what you can and can not do with them. But in the end they will find a scapegoat and blame it on someone or a group of people to help keep the heat off themselves.

"Pull out of space flight"? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20006137)

The U.S. occupation of space is not worth the price in human lives.

While corporations are profiting from space travel, our brave young men and women are dying unnecessarily.

Re:"Pull out of space flight"? (1)

kimvette (919543) | more than 6 years ago | (#20006195)

If someone willingly chooses a risky career, what business is it of yours to say it's not worth it? By that logic, we should all be living by the Amish, because driving to work, particpating in practically any sport, and even crossing the street all entail risk. If your logic is implemented I hope that football is banned because it is a high-risk sport, and the people who participate in football should have that choice eliminated.

If people who worked in aerospace were forced to choose that profession I might agree with you, but they didn't; they chose to work there and knew the risks. Besides, this incident was likely a freak accident that could more easily happen at any hardware store where some under-trained careless employee is refilling a LPG or LNG tank.

Pull out of forklift-aided transportation (5, Funny)

markov_chain (202465) | more than 6 years ago | (#20006309)

The increased U.S. efficiency in handling goods is not worth the price in human lives.

While corporations are profiting from increased handling capacity, our brave young men and women are dying unnecessarily.

Ban forklifts! [youtube.com]

Re:"Pull out of space flight"? (1)

fractoid (1076465) | more than 6 years ago | (#20006345)

The US occupation of highways, industrial workplaces, Iraq, beaches, hell even five-star resorts is higher priced in terms of human lives than the US occupation of space. 10 out of 10 for sensationalism, but more people are killed each year by bees than by the space program.

Moment of Silence (1)

Effugas (2378) | more than 6 years ago | (#20006185)

A moment of silence for these lost explorers, and deepest hopes that the survivors of this accident recover to see space!

Dear editors: This article is not about science! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20006351)

Please create an obituary section, and place death-related articles in it.

It Happens (5, Insightful)

DynaSoar (714234) | more than 6 years ago | (#20006399)

Those people were professionals. They knew what they were doing and they knew the risks. That's not to be cold hearted, but the opposite. They did their jobs despite the risks and suffered for it. That's the price of pioneering. They're not heroes for suffering, they were heroes before, for living and working on the edge. Heroes will replace them. Some of those will get hurt, and so on.

The first thing that occurred to me was whether Rutan was there. He wasn't, but he could have been. It's his way to keep his hands in things. That would have been an enormous loss to aero- and space development. He's one of the all time geniuses of all things flyable. Any really good aerospace engineer could write a definitive book on composite construction. It took genius to do so in 28 pages. It'd be damn hard for Scaled to go on without him, even with Northrup buying them out.

The second that occurred to me was that it'll put a damper on hybrid motor development and use. The motors are much safer than solid or liquid, but the handling equipment isn't safe by any stretch. Amateur rocketry has been using them for years, but nobody is willing to break the high-power certification barrier and make them available to low and mid-power rockters due to the liability factor from the ground equipment. It may come to nothing more than headlines for the media and PR for some politicians, but I expect a call for the FAA's Office of Space Transportation to rethink certifying of hybrid powered human rated craft.

Re:It Happens (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20006481)

> The second that occurred to me was that it'll put a damper on hybrid motor development and use.

What better way to make sure Scaled's new owners can keep their new technologies under wraps.

Upside: Next round of warfare, we win. Enemy doesn't even have a clue why.
Downside: I don't get to spend my kids' retirement on a holiday in low earth orbit.

And yet, I'm more saddened by the downside than I'm intrigued by the upside.

Maybe it's because we woulda wasted the enemy no matter how few of my tax dollars the government took from me, but spending a weekend in low earth orbit (never mind the fucking moon [members.shaw.ca]) has been on my "List Of Things To Do Before I Die" since well before puberty.

My condolences to the families of the dead and injured. To the living: If NOC fucks you over, quit and wait for your non-compete contracts to expire. Then rebuild. If NOC doesn't fuck you over, keep building.

Whether NOC fucks you over or not, please, please, please, for the love of Dobbs, get us off this fucking rock.

Even if only for a weekend.

Re:It Happens (1)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 6 years ago | (#20006585)

Is it just me or does anyone else notice that whenever an AC posts on Slashdot they're a fuckin' moron?

Re:It Happens (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20006699)

Those people were professionals. They knew what they were doing and they knew the risks. That's not to be cold hearted, but the opposite. They did their jobs despite the risks and suffered for it. That's the price of pioneering. They're not heroes for suffering, they were heroes before, for living and working on the edge. Heroes will replace them. Some of those will get hurt, and so on.

Thank you for these words. Someone in a different thread was going on about how this happened at a workplace, so it should have been prevented. I was so incensed that I couldn't find a way to respond in any clear or coherent manner. I'm glad I continued reading, because as it turns out, you said precisely what I had hoped to and it has calmed me down.

One doesn't come to work at a company like Scaled Composites by accident, or because there's just no better job available. These individuals were incredibly passionate about their jobs, they were more qualified than anyone else to be doing the work that's being done there, and - yes - they knew that there were risks. We must respect them for that, and we should accept the fact that whatever comes of this tragedy will be knowledge for future improvements. We must acknowledge that the loss of these two lives, and the critical injury to four others, can only result in better designs of future tests and deployments.

There are no words that any of us can put forth right now that will console the families and friends of those lost. But I think they'll know and understand - more than the rest of us ever will - the sacrifice of their loved ones. You don't conquer a new frontier without losing many amazing people along the journey. This has always been true of space exploration, and is a fact that even NASA cannot deny during its many expeditions into unfamiliar territory. What works one day will not always work the next, and as previous tragedies have shown, even with the weight of the government behind you, you cannot guarantee success.

To all those who have been lost in the pursuit of space exploration, godspeed. I wish I had the gumption and the sheer knowledge to join you.

nitrus oxide explosion is no laughing matter (1, Funny)

Salgamma (580597) | more than 6 years ago | (#20006419)

'nuff said

Re:nitrous oxide explosion is no laughing matter (1)

Salgamma (580597) | more than 6 years ago | (#20006445)

is it funnier with or without the typo? It's past my bedtime.

Seems like an honorable way to go. Condolences to all involved.

Not unexpected (4, Insightful)

macemoneta (154740) | more than 6 years ago | (#20006643)

This is very sad, but not unexpected. Every major construction project will have an estimated number deaths associated with it before it starts. Every skyscraper, every bridge, every tunnel, every road through bad terrain, and yes, every space mission.

Most people (other than the safety engineers and insurance folks) rarely stop and think about what it costs in human lives to move forward. But there is a cost.

In a perfect world it would never happen, but we are imperfect and it will always happen. People make mistakes. Equipment malfunctions. Bad weather. Mislabeled products. Acts of nature.

The people that do this work benefit their species; a true higher calling. Take a moment to think about their sacrifice and thank them.

Wasn't an engine test. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20006659)

They were testing one of the fuel tanks.
It was an explosion, the cause isn't known yet but the majority of the injuries were shrapnel related.

Photos of NOX Tank (1)

Techknowledgie (1133603) | more than 6 years ago | (#20006691)

I found a couple of pictures of the tank that exploded, or one very much like it. The tank and the trailer it is on appear very similar to the blasted one in today's news pics. I found this at http://www.desertturtle.com/SpaceShipOne-Flights.h tml [desertturtle.com]. You have to scroll down to the 9th and 10th thumbnails and click on them. Notice the sign on the tank says, "NONFLAMMABLE GAS, OXIDIZER".
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